Beth Fertig is the contributing editor for education, covering the New York City public school system for WNYC on air and online at SchoolBook.org. She has covered education in the city for more than 15 years. Beth is the author of Why cant u teach me 2 read? Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test (FSG Books) which grew out of a radio series on the low graduation rate for special education students. Follow her @bethfertig.
Cuomo Digs In Against de Blasio's Pre-K Tax
Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 04:00 AM
For weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said there’s no need for New York City to tax its wealthiest residents to pay for universal pre-k because his new state budget has it covered. But he's now arguing that a tax would be redundant.
"Millionaire's tax, millionaire's surcharge, we have one," he told WNYC's Brian Lehrer show Friday, referring to a tax that went into effect during the recession. He also said that tax "is one of the reasons we have the resources to pay for pre-k statewide."
Cuomo's line of attack marks a new phase in his assault on de Blasio's push to tax city residents making $500,000 a year and more. The mayor needs the governor and the state legislature to approve his tax, and the State Senate's Republican co-leader, Dean Skelos, sides with Cuomo in opposing taxes during this Albany election year.
Cuomo is making it very clear who's got the upper hand. During his WNYC appearance, he used the mayor's own words in arguing that it would be unfair to let a wealthy city use its own money for pre-k when other districts don't have the means.
"The answer to a tale of two cities is not to create two states," he said.
This week, several upstate lawmakers from Buffalo to Ulster issued statements praising Cuomo's plan to expand pre-k. A few also criticized de Blasio for saying New York City needs its own tax because "the kids in our system are amongst the poorest in the country."
Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy said, "I'm surprised to hear that Mayor de Blasio is implying that the children of New York City are more important than the children of my city or other cities."
The governor's office said the statements were not coordinated, though they were all issued around the time of de Blasio's budget speech on Wednesday. De Blasio has repeatedly said a tax is the only way to fund pre-k for five years, and that the governor's budget doesn't include enough money to pay for an extra 50,000 full-day seats starting in September.
A de Blasio spokeswoman issued this statement following Cuomo's comments on WNYC:
"The mayor and the governor share a commitment to ending inequality but an honest assessment of the mayor’s plan for universal pre–K leaves no doubt: it’s best for the people of New York state as well. It provides free, universal pre-k for the children of New York City with the funding to pay for it."
Some allies also said the mayor's plan would leave the rest of the state with more money for pre-k, because the city would be self-sufficient.
But even as many observers believe the tax plan is dead on arrival, the mayor and his allies are keeping it front and center. It appears they're trying to get as much money as possible — even if the only way is through the governor's budget.